Labor

Walmart May Make Up to $78 Million Forcing Employees to Pay for New Work Uniforms

Low-paid employees working for the richest family in America have to buy clothes they can’t afford to adhere to the corporation’s new dress code.

Walmart's new uniforms and their prices on display in an Alabama Walmart store’s break room

On August 5, Walmart HR executive Barbara Simone wrote to employees on the corporation’s internal website explaining the corporation’s new dress code. A Walmart employee sent Gawker a screenshot of her enthusiastic message, titled: “Updated: Customer Service: A new look.”  

“The pride we take in our appearance should make us feel good when we help customers,” Simone wrote. “It’s a reminder that each one of us is part of something big—helping millions of people save money and live better.”

She then goes on to explain why employees won’t be saving money and living better any time soon. They have until September 29 to purchase clothes that adhere to Walmart’s new dress code of white or blue collared shirts and khaki or black bottoms. Simone suggests employees shop for their new uniforms at, you guessed it, Walmart. She cheerfully reminds workers to apply their 10 percent associate discount “for additional savings.”

Many Walmart employees are outraged that they have to pay for these new uniforms. These low-wage workers began leaving comments on Simone’s post. Gawker reported that one employee wrote:  

This is more of a financial burden to our family since this is our only source of income with my wife and two kids. We can hardly afford to live on my income now with us having to pay for a new uniform.

Another wrote:

When will you admit you and the big fish at Walmart were wrong and scrap this busy work project that you and others are using to justify your big paychecks...every few months you guys dream up something new to torture the associates with...let us just get on with our work ...making you more money ... don't worry ...you'll still collect your big paychecks.

As this commenter mentioned, it seems Walmart changes its dress code policy frequently, forcing employees to fork up cash in order to maintain their jobs. One Walmart worker told Business Insider that in the past three years working at Walmart, he has “gone through more required dress code changes than I can count.”

On Monday, Richard Reynoso, a Walmart employee and OUR Walmart member, sent a letter to Walmart’s headquarters explaining why the corporation should cover the costs of the new employee uniforms. Reynoso makes between $800 and $900 a month.

“The sad truth is that I do not have $50 laying around the house to spend on new uniform clothes just because Walmart suddenly decided to change its policy,” he wrote in his letter, as reported by the Huffington Post. “If I have to go out of pocket for these new clothes, I’m going to have to choose which bill to skip.”

Making Change at Walmart, a campaign anchored by the United Food & Commercial Workers pushing to improve working conditions at the corporation, found that Walmart may make tens of millions in sales from the dress code change. Making Change at Walmart used a photo of the new uniforms’ prices that were on display in an Alabama Walmart store’s break room. They calculated that if one million of the 1.3 million American Walmart employees bought three uniform sets at the prices listed in the photo with their 10 percent employee discount, Walmart would gain $51-$78 million in sales, depending on if employees purchased the low-end or high-end uniforms. They added that the Walton family, Walmart’s heirs, could buy one million employees three uniform sets with just six days of their Walmart dividends.

Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project told the Huffington Post that “Walmart was very smart” in picking its dress code, because it is legal to make employees pay for work clothes—as long as they are not branded and can be worn outside of work. Walmart, for example, has to pay for the new Walmart-branded vests they will be requiring workers to wear.

While the biggest problem with the new dress code remains the economic injustice at the heart of Walmart’s operations, some workers are also calling out the discomfort the new uniforms will bring. Several workers told Business Insider that Walmart has been cutting off air conditioning in their stores—and the new uniforms won’t help.

One Walmart associate said their store reaches “hot and unbearable” temperatures, adding, "Now they want us to wear thick heavy woven polo shirts as well as the vests? … This will not help matters any. This company has gotten so out of touch with their own stores it's a shame.”

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. 

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